Article from the July / August 2008 Issue of the Mission Magazine New World Outlook
By Grant Hartman
“Hey, there is another one over here under this rock. I found a big one with his tail sticking out. Let’s get it!”
After a bit of a struggle, a large iguana was captured by Hector, one of our new Mexican friends, with the prudent help of our AWARE team. The team was in the countryside looking for rocks that could be used to construct the gabion at the back of the Give Ye Them To Eat (GYTTE) “Tree of Life” training center near Tlancualpican, Mexico.
The village of Tlancualpican is about two hours and 114 topes (speed bumps) southwest of the city of Puebla. Puebla is a large city of about 2 million people located in the state of Puebla at an elevation of about 7,000 feet in south central Mexico. It is guarded by an active, majestic volcano, Popocatepetl, which generally produces a plume of smoke or steam to prove that it is alive.
Tlancualpican is a village of approximately 3,500 people who are proud to have a basketball court in the zocalo, the center of town, where the Sunday open-air market is held. Nearby is the Catholic church that was built in 1544. A few blocks away is the Methodist church, which has been in the community since the early 1920’s and has an active congregation that is supportive of the local GYTTE Tree of Life training center. (New World Outlook, March-April 2008, p. 6) The GYTTE program, based on integrated development models, is led by United Methodist missionaries Terry and Muriel Henderson.
The active AWARE volunteer program was conceived and is directed by Muriel Henderson, who has an advanced degree in Christian Education and is a motivating teacher when it comes to teaching US volunteers about the realities of life in rural Mexico. I have taken part in the GYTTE program over the last 12 years. Throughout that period the AWARE study program has remained an important part of my GYTTE work-team experience.
A GYTTE instructor (far right) teaches seminarians how to make cylinders for rapid composting.
What Is AWARE?
A “Rural Reality Day” enables work-study team members to experience the types of activities encountered daily by a typical Mexican family. Meals are included! One learns quickly that the work is hard, the pay is low, and the food is basically corn tortillas and beans.
Our day starts with an early wake-up call because our Mexican coworkers start work at 6:30 a.m. We may have a cup of coffee before the study activities, which include an early morning AWARE experience with devotions. We get a break at 9:30 for almuerzo, or Mexican brunch. Because the work projects are suspended at 2:30, when our Mexican coworkers go back home to their village - many of them to a second job – we have an afternoon AWARE activity. The activity may be visiting a school to take part in a program like “More Than A Bandage”, in which we give out toothbrushes and toothpaste to the children who came to learn about oral health care. We may visit a home in a village in which a composting toilet is being constructed by family members. They are proud of their efforts, even though they may not have running water in their outdoor kitchen made of stick walls and a metal roof.
This year, we visited a home in a village where health-care workers from GYTTE were presenting a program on AIDS. Many villagers attended. Evening may find team members with time for reflection in the palapa, the thatched-roofed teaching facility and perhaps a Thursday night worship service at the local Methodist church. Many interesting discussions take place about poverty, Third-World living, and hunger. This well-planned study program led by Muriel Henderson provides a real experience that changes lives.
Mission Awareness Grows
Lives of the local village people are also changed. The AWARE program put us in touch with the local church in Tlancualpican through its Thursday night worship, where we got to know some of the youth of the church. In order to complete their high school education, two of them had to take the bus to Puebla to take courses they needed to qualify for college, but this was difficult for them to do. We returned to our home church and told our congregation about the youth. “How can we help them?” members of our congregation asked.
Perhaps the most important role of the AWARE program is the resulting interest of the work-study teams in the GYTTE Tree of Life training center. Each time a work-study team comes to Mexico, the members bring funds that pay for tools, materials, and local laborers. US work teams generally focus on the construction of buildings at the Tree of Life center. The dorms, dining room, teaching facilities, animal facilities, sports court, and a house for the missionaries were all constructed by teams using locally obtained building materials purchased with work-study team funds. In addition, wells, solar pumps, animals and workshops on terracing, composting, and gabions have been paid for by teams and used to teach appropriate technology to the local people. Without these buildings, materials, and resources, training poor villagers in south central Mexico would be difficult. It has been estimated that more than 10,000 people have been touched in some way this past year by GYTTE.
All to God’s Purpose
The AWARE program is unique to the mission field and contributes greatly to the success of the GYTTE program. It is a win-win-win situation as missionary staff, local Mexican people, and work-study team members all receive heart-warming blessings.
We open up to new experiences and new ways of thinking. Our friend Hector, referenced at the beginning of this article, was hunting iguanas for a purpose, not just for sport. His quick hands were faster than the rapid movement of the three-foot-long reptile. To the amazement of the AWARE participants, in Mexico iguana meat is considered a delicacy. After loading more backbreaking rocks onto the truck during the heat of the day and then taking nice hot (solar-heated) showers, we gathered for the last meal of the day. The iguana tasted just like chicken!
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